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Saturday, 14 December 2019

Al-Hussein: Relics of the prophet

Living alongside a holy place

Nabil Shawkat, Sunday 5 Aug 2012
Views: 24980
Views: 24980

Al-Hussein (Photo credit: from the AUC Creswell Collection)

The house on the right in this photo is gone now, removed to allow the mosque to be expanded in the western direction, toward Khan al-Khalili. The house is built in the Ottoman style, with the first floor thrust outwards on wooden beams and usually with an angle, to catch the breeze or have a better view of something important, in this case the Mashhad Husseini.


The house is in an advanced state of decay, which suggests that it is perhaps built in the early 1800s. So the young couples who first rented or owned parts of the house would have been alive at the turn of the nineteenth century, and may have seen firsthand some of the fighting between Napoleon's forces and the locals in the nearby streets.


In 1920, when this photo was most likely taken, the main source of lighting in the neighbourhood was Kerosene, and if you look carefully, you'll see a gasoline lamp hanging from the wall of the house on the right.


People who lived in this house would have been frequent visitors of the Mashhad and the Mosque of Hussein, and some of them may have particularly enjoyed the scene of dozens of tailors working hard to fashion the robes of the Kaaba, which were made in this mosque in Shawwal (the month after Ramadan) this year.

In Ramadan, the eldest or most pious among the nearby residents would go to the room of the relics of the prophet, which is located just south of the cupola housing the Mashhad Husseini. There, they would hang on to the lattice window and say a prayer for their loved ones.

The room of relics was added to the mosque in 1893 and is currently (in 2012) under renovation. It contains a piece of cloth believed to be part of a robe once worn by the prophet, two merwads for kohl (eyeliner applicators) also belonging to the prophet, and two hairs from his beard. The room also contains two copies from the Koran, said to be once owned by the third and fourth caliphs, Othman and Ali. In fact, the older of the two copies, written on goat leather, is dated one hundred years at least after the death of both men.

Originally the prophet relics were kept in a rebat (house for Sufis or for old people) in what is now Athar al-Nabi (literally, the prophet's trace) in south Cairo. They were removed from Athar al-Nabi to al-Ghuri's cupola (just across the Azhar Street) in 1504, where they remained for nearly three centuries. In 1858, the relics were removed to the Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque, where they remained for another thirty years. Since 1888, the relics have been in the Mashhad Husseini.

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